Integrating Exercise into your Personal Practice for a better
Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual life.
 

by Bobby Andrews, B.A. 

...

A bear, however hard he tries, grows tubby without exercise.
— A.A. Milne, 1882-1856, English writer
The two best exercises in the world are making love and dancing but a simple one is to stand on tiptoe.
— Barbara Cartland, 1901-2000, English writer

What you can expect from this article:

    1.    A unique, inspiring and helpful perspective on using exercise in a personal practice,
    2.    A long term resource,
    3.    Improved exercise selection, and results.


Part I - The Why

Why exercise is ripe.

Always desire to learn something useful.
— Sophocles, 496 BC, greek dramatist

Two reasons stand out, amongst many, as to why exercise is a solid choice for your personal practice.  First, it vests in you a wide range of subjective benefits - beyond the well known physical ones - that are incorporeal:  happiness, contentment, and spiritual.  Too often, exercise is perceived as a one off solution to a one off problem - a prescription.  It is far more capable and rewarding to the serious practitioner in the form of a life practice.  Secondly, it is adaptable to your personal needs over a long period of time - deep enough to grow, change, or morph alongside your personal evolution.  It is a faithful companion for the long haul.

Connection - the key ingredient

Health is the soul that animates all the enjoyments of life, which fade and are tasteless without it.
— Seneca, 4 BC – AD 65, ancient roman stoic

There is one thing you must do to successfully make exercise a part of your practice.

You must connect your personal philosophy and, or, spiritual beliefs with the exercise you choose.  By committing yourself on a deeper level you connect with the medium of your personal evolution - as though it’s holy.  

The person who successfully does this crosses the rubicon.  They no longer squabble with themselves, with others, or the idea of exercise.  Their mind burns passionately for the opportunity to grow, to evolve.  They believe in it, and this is what separates exercise-as-a-practice from the regular old exercise prescription ordered by your concerned doctor.

Removing the exercise phobia - channeling the benefits

Nothing is really work unless you’d rather be doing something else.
— J.M. Barrie, 1860-1937, scottish writer and dramatist
He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.
— Friedrich Nietzsche, 1844-1900 AD, german philosopher

The full scope of exercise benefits are illusory if you do not integrate it into your personal practice.  Unfortunately, for most people, not integrating exercise into a personal practice is exactly the case.  This is a subtle yet critical point.   Consider the type of questions asked by those who struggle with exercise: “Why is exercise so hard?”, “I’m too tired to exercise”, “How am I supposed to exercise when I’m so busy?”.  

Are those the questions of someone who sees exercise as a personal practice?  Who sees exercise as a medium for personal evolution?   Certainly not.  ‘Hard’, ‘tired’, ‘busy’ are nothing to a heart on fire - that passionate person who connects the action of exercise with their own philosophy or spiritual development.  

To state it positively:  adopt exercise as a part of your personal practice to make it stick, and experience the full ambit of benefits.  In this article we’ll explicitly state those benefits, and how to integrate exercise into your life as a practice -  so read on.

The benefits - a more comprehensive self

It takes more than just a good looking body. You’ve got to have the heart and soul to go with it.
— Epictetus, 55-135 AD, roman/greek stoic philosopher

Purposeful self-regulation of your body, through the medium of exercise, can yield tremendous benefits - especially if your practice is aimed at spiritual growth.  The principle of gratitude is what connects our exercise practice with the larger realm of benefits.  The following chart captures the full scope of benefits.


Physical

(Body)

1. Better Aesthetics

2. Better Performance

3. Better Health:
- longer lifetime - add 2 hours to your life for each 1 hour exercised

- control over body weight

- stronger bones and muscles, increased physical performance

- increased presence of endorphins

- increased physical relaxation

- improved sex drive

4. Increased Immunity
- lower risk of dementia

- prevent chronic illnesses associated with obesity

- lower risk of stroke

- lower risk of heart disease

- lower risk of type 2 diabetes

-

(Brain)

1. Immediate Health Benefit:
- increased brain power - via neurogenesis

- increased brains faculty of memory

- increased brains faculty of creativity and intuition

- slows cognitive decline

- better sleep patterns

Non-Physical

(Incorporeal)

1. Immediate Health Benefit:
- Morale
- Life satisfaction
- Happiness

2. Prevents Negative Mental States:
- depression
- anxiety
- anger
- stress

3. Improves Character:
- loving
- compassionate
- patience
- tolerance
- forgiveness
- contentment
- responsibility
- harmony
- concern for others
- fortitude

Spiritual

(Transcendental)

- deeper, more comprehensive self

- connectivity with life and others

- enlightenment - insight into a timeless transcendent reality


Part II - The How

Don’t let your special character and values, the secret that you know and no one else does, the truth - don’t let that get swallowed up by the great chewing complacency.
— Aesop, 620 BC, ancient greek fabulist

We’ve covered why exercise is a worthy medium for your personal practice and you are ready to take it on.  Yet you are left wondering “how”?  The next part of this article dives straight into answering that question.   What follows is our recommendation but you are free to create your own process of course.

4 Steps for adopting exercise into your personal practice:

    1.    Holistic self-assessment
    2.    Written non-physical, and physical goals
    3.    Establish commitment
    4.    Execution

Hey dude, weightlifting is way better than running, and running is better than playing a sport … right?
— The everyday conversationist

Objectively exercise 1 is the same as exercise 2.  It is neither better, nor worse.  And so on with exercise 3, 4, 5, 6, ad infinitum.  Each exercise just is.  We cannot refer to an exercise as either good or bad until we introduce the practitioner - that is, you.  You are the reference point upon which all value is assigned to any particular exercise.  

In order to find the best exercise we need to find out who you are, what your goals are, and how you want to evolve.  Finding this out requires some serious self-reflection on your part but it’s worth it.   Let’s get started.

Step 1 - Holistic self-assessment (2 hours)

From one learn all
— Virgil, 70 BC, ancient roman poet

Set a couple hours aside and bring a pen, notepad, tape measure, and weight scale - if you can find one.  You’ll probably need some help to take body measurements so find a friend who is supportive but quiet while you work through your self-assessment.  

Invariably there are folks that want to do the physical but not the non-physical assessment, and vice versa.  Please take the time to do the whole assessment.  At the end of the day you’ll be happy you did.  

A. Physical Assessment

  1. Write down in your note pad the following body measurements, and mark the date:
    • waist
    • chest
    • shoulders
    • hips
    • thights
    • arms
  2. Write down your weight from a reliable scale, and your body fat%
  3. Write down any performance values that are important to you. For example:
    • (ie.) 1 rep max - bench press
    • (ie.) best time - 400m run
    • (ie.) old jeans standard - the old jeans you wore in the good 'ol days
    • (ie.) Scoring 30 goals this hockey season
    • ... have fun with this ...
  4. Write down any pre-existing medical conditions - visit your doctor for a checkup.

B. Psychological Assessment

  1. Take 15-30 minutes and write down your prevailing moods over the recent past (pick the time frame that best indicates your prevailing mood).
  2. Assign your level of contentment on a scale of 1-10.
  3. Write down any pre-existing psychiatric conditions.

C. Philosophical and/or Spiritual Assessment

  1. Take 15-30 minutes to write down 2 or 3 statements that best summarize your deepest beliefs.  Here's a couple of questions to get you going.  Just be honest about it:
    • Is there a divine being? A god?
    • What does it mean to be "good"?  Is there a morale code I subscribe to?
    • What contribution, if any, will I make?
    • Are there philosophical, or religious traditions that I like? What are they?
  2. Assess on a scale of 1-10 how much you act on your deepest beliefs, and then quick describe how.  Use the following scale:
    • 1 = Argh, I've got big ideas but I'm not working them into my life at all.
    • 5 = Sorta, my beliefs are manifesting in my immediate relationships, but not my big picture decisions like career, or marriage. (or, vice-versa)
    • 10 = Perfect, everything I do is connected to my most important beliefs.

Step 2 - Write your physical, and Non-physical goals (1 hour)

It is not only fine feathers that make fine birds
— Aesop, 620 BC, ancient greek fabulist

Each step builds on the next.  By hashing out a clear assessment of yourself in step 1 you get a clearer picture of your current state, and, more importantly, where you want to go.  The key to the 2nd step is to create, and emphasize, non-physical goals.  Of course you have physical goals but it’s the process of including your non-physical goals that generates an impenetrable commitment to a fitness practice.  Get your pen and notepad, preferably the same one from step 1, and write down your goals.  Try to keep it as close to 1 hour as possible, and use our goal setting guidelines below.

  1. Non-physical goals of exercise (*review our chart above)
    • Mood
    • Character
    • Prevention of negative mental states
  2. Spiritual goals of exercise, if any. (*review our chart above)
    • Medium for a deeper comprehensive self
    • Connectivity with life, and others
    • Pursuit of enlightenment
  3. Physical goals of exercise
    • Aesthetics
    • Performance
    • Health

Step 3 - Establish your commitment to an exercise discipline

Be as a tower firmly set; shakes not its top for any blast that blows.
— Dante Alighieri, 1265–1321 AD, florentine poet

At this point you finished your self-assessment (step 1), and wrote the goals most important to you (step 2).  With this essential information in hand you possess the power to discern which exercise disciplines are “best” for you.  The key ingredient at this step is commitment.  Make your decision based on whether the exercise discipline is conducive with your written goals, and whether you’re able to commit.  Remember, your goals materialize in direct proportion to your level of commitment - make sure it fits in with overall personal practices.   Find below our list of recommended exercise disciplines for your consideration.   

A. Recommended exercise disciplines:

  1. Yoga
  2. Manual labour
  3. Running
  4. Bodybuilding
  5. Olympic lifting
  6. Power lifting
  7. Crossfit
  8. General fitness training
  9. Tai Chi
  10. Dance
  11. Calisthenics
  12. Swimming
  13. Pilates
  14. Cycling
  15. Walking
  16. Sports

Step 4 - Execute, and actualize your practice.

Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.
— George Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950 AD, Irish playwright

Action - this is the fun part.  Launch into your exercise discipline with all the excitement you deserve.  However, always remember the exercise discipline is a means to an end - a medium for achieving your overall physical and non-physical goals.  Here are a few tips to stay on track:

    1.    Keep your written goals close, and review them frequently
    2.    For physical goals, find inspiring photos and post them on the fridge or bathroom mirror
    3.    For non-physical goals, find inspiring mentors - read about them, and keep a journal, or post around the house any inspiring passages  

In part III of this article we divulge our strategy for using an exercise discipline for the long term - as a lifestyle.   So we won’t repeat any of that information here even though it’s relevant to step 4.  However, that said, there is one last point.  You will inevitably change exercise disciplines.  Things change.  You change.  There will be times when it’s necessary to revisit your goals and exercise choice.  Never feel locked into an exercise discipline, or that leaving for another is some kind of defeat.  

The last word on our 4 step process

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.
— Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862 AD, american philosopher

You seize one major advantage by using our 4 step process.   Because change is a constant your goals inevitably change.  So will your interest in any one exercise discipline.  With our process you can easily revisit your goals and exercise selection so that you avoid, or at least limit, stagnant periods.  This leads to a flexible and persistent approach to implementing exercise in your overall practice.  We call it cross-training, a training approach in sports, but it’s probably better termed as cross-exercising.  By revisiting your goals and exercise discipline you give yourself permission to explore different paths.

Think of the exercise discipline as a tool, and this 4 step process a tool box.  We pull out of the tool box a tool to get the job done.  We pick the best tool based on the job - we might try one, two, or three tools until we settle on the tool.  Then on to the next job with our toolbox in hand, and ready to pull out the best tool.  It’s a continuous process that allows for constant personal growth.


If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading
— Lao Tzu, 6th c. BC, ancient chinese philosopher